Well, yesterday I was reading a few LDS blogs. As anyone who has read blogs dealing with LDS topics can tell you, the comments can get pretty negative. On one of these blog posts, a discussion began among those commenting about Mormons being polytheists, and therefore were obviously some kind of anti-biblical, anti-Christian cult, etc., blah blah blah. Several Latter-day Saints posted responses, many of which began something like this: "Yes, we are polytheists, but . . . "
I appreciated their responses, but it's always struck me the wrong way when I see Latter-day Saints accepting the anti-Mormon idea of LDS Polytheism as a given. We, when discussing with those who are attacking our beliefs, should not grant them their misconceptions by saying, "Yes, we are polytheists . . . " We need to make quite clear our understandings of Godhood, in contrast to the common idea of polytheism, which I'll define in a bit. I say this because this was an issue in my own conversion to the Gospel. I'll briefly relate my experience:
Before joining the Church, I knew of the Mormons being polytheists and wondered how they could square such a belief with the Bible, which clearly says "there is no God beside me" (Isaiah 45:5. See also Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 45:21-22, Hosea 13:4, etc.). You see, I could not separate polytheism from the common idea of it, which is a pantheon of gods worshiped by ancient Romans & Greeks, modern Hindus, and others. In these and other polytheistic religions, adherents believe in a multitude of gods with a multitude of different purposes. There is a Sun god, a Moon god, an Earth god, a sky god, an ocean god, etc. etc. This is what polytheism meant to me. I knew that Mormons didn't believe in Sun and Moon gods, but I thought their gods were similar in that they were off doing their own things with their own special purposes, completely separate from our God. I imagined Mormon polytheism was just another form of idolatry that distracted from the worship of the True God.
My change of heart came when I began to understand the true nature of Godhood in Latter-day Saint theology, and just how rational it is. LDS polytheism does not distract from God, but helps us to understand God. Our theology makes sense to us because when we look around the world, it can be found in everything we see. Let me explain through real world experience:
In our world today, there are nearly 7 billion human beings, each belonging in some way or another to a family (in the sense that every person must have a father and mother in order to have been born, even if the father and/or mother are no longer around when the child is born). Now, does the existence of other fathers and mothers in the world distract from or change the fact that YOU only have one father? You cannot choose your father; you are stuck with him. You cannot go to a random father on the street and say, "Hey Dad! Because you are a father I choose you to be MY father!" Well, as it is in earthly things, so it is in heavenly things. I don't think I can state it much more clearly than St. Paul himself, when he said: "For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him" (1 Cor. 8:5-6).
Mormonism shows us that we can discover God from observations of reality, and not just by abstract philosophical thinking. I believe God placed us here in family units not because God decided out of the blue that that was the way to do things, but because He was extending the heavenly order of things into the earthly order of things. By placing us in families, ideally with a father and mother, He was placing us in a unit that could prepare us to receive heavenly things later on. And when we become fathers and mothers, it is a test of how seriously we will take the responsibility of raising our own heavenly families. In this sense Earth truly is a proving ground for God's children. We discover the attributes of godliness by discovering what is good down here on earth. We do not believe God is some strange, incomprehensible thing composed of three distinct personalities but in actuality is only one being. We believe God is literally "the Father of [our] spirits" (Heb. 12:9), just as the Bible plainly tells us. When Malachi asks "Have we not all one father?" (Mal. 2:10), we Latter-day Saints answer with a resounding "YES!"
So, what of the other gods then? Well, we ourselves are called gods by Christ (John 10:34), who in turn was quoting a Psalm which said the same thing (Ps. 82:6). It baffles me why these two scriptures do not immediately put an end to all disputation on this subject. If Christians truly followed the Bible as they repeatedly claim they do, then these two scriptures, which I submit are quite clear, should cause all Christians everywhere to say, "Oh, wait a minute, by using the definition of polytheism thrown at Mormons, we too must be polytheists! Here it is in plain black and white in my Bible, 'ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.'" Please, anyone out there reading this, carefully read those two scriptures, in context. Don't take my word for it. Jesus uses that scripture from Psalms to declare that it is not blasphemy for Him to call Himself the Son of God, because we are ALL children of God, and therefore gods ourselves (at least in embryo). So, in Latter-day Saint (and biblical) theology, all other gods out there exist only as a part of God's Eternal family. Yet, let me make it clear that even though we are called "gods" now because we are of Heavenly Father's family, we are nowhere near close to being like God Himself. He is our ONE and ONLY Father, and always will be. We can only attain our divine potential through our Savior and Mediator Jesus Christ, who came to Earth to remind us of that divine potential and to allow us to return to God's presence and to our Heavenly Family, where we belong.
I love this doctrine. It is logical, simple, biblical, and, in my opinion, the best part is that you can do something with it! The Trinity is a doctrine which has been described as one of God's mysteries. We are told we cannot really understand it because we are mere humans who cannot possibly understand what God is like with our simple little minds. Why would God create His children so different from Himself that we could not possibly understand Him? That belief does nothing for me. How is it even possible to truly love something we cannot understand? As a Latter-day Saint, I can understand my relationship to my Father and my Heavenly Family because I am given an earthly type of this Family.
So, in my opinion, "polytheistic" is not a good way to describe our religion. Technically, yes, we believe there are more gods than just God the Father. BUT, we believe all gods ultimately are a part of the same family as God our Father, and that all gods who have achieved the status of divinity (like Christ) have only done so by following the same laws and precepts by which God Himself abides. They therefore exist in complete and total unity, almost as if they are one and the same God.
At least that is how I understand it. I believe that this view is very much in line with what is in the Bible as well as what common sense and experience tell us.